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Prison Fellowship is facing a new legal challenge to its innovative effort to rehabilitate prisoners. Americans United for the Separation of Church and State filed two lawsuits in federal court on February 12 against Iowa correctional officials, Prison Fellowship, and its ministry, Inner Change Freedom Initiative.

"The program is one of the most egregious violations of church-state separation I've ever seen," said Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "It is unconscionable for the government to give preferential treatment to prisoners based solely on their willingness to undergo religious conversion and indoctrination."

Americans United says the 215 participating inmates in the "pervasively religious" prerelease program receive significant advantages over nonparticipants. Participants live in an "honor unit," have keys to their cells, and can use private bathrooms. Americans United also charges that government money pays for religious aspects of the program.

Americans United hopes the suits influence future government funding of faith-based organizations. President Bush supported the Texas Inner Change program while he was governor of Texas. Inner Change programs also operate in Kansas and Minnesota.

Prison Fellowship President Mark Earley said in a statement that the program is well within constitutional boundaries, noting that state money goes solely for nonsectarian expenses. Earley said only private funds pay for religious programming. And while biblical values are taught in the program, participation is "open to inmates of all faiths or no faith." Contrary to Lynn's claim, religious conversion is not a requirement for the program.

Americans United charges that Iowa has not monitored the program to prevent state ...

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April 2003

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